Sixteen indictments were issued against Jussie Smollett by a Cook County grand jury on Friday, March 8 — felony indictments. Yes, a person is always (under U.S. law) “Innocent until proven Guilty.” And, no, Jussie has NOT been proven guilty. So why have the lines formed of people who are demonstrably declaring his guilt OR declaring his innocence?
I think it’s because it “appears” to be that Smollett attempted to in some way use the system, his ethnicity, his fame along with his sexual preference to sway the court of public opinion for some personal advantage. That in itself if true is sad on many levels. But there’s more to this story and its ramifications that haven’t been but should be discussed.
If allegations against him contained in these sixteen felony indictments are proven in court and he is found guilty, this case will prove to be just one more blight on today’s international media stage. This case so far has been nothing more than a three-ring circus. Wanna guess what specifically is on display in each of the three circus rings?
Jussie Smollett Is Famous: Ring #1
I’ve always heard: fame comes with a price. Maybe Jussie is finding that out firsthand.
He began his career as a child actor in 1987 acting in films including The Mighty Ducks (1992) and Rob Reiner’s North (1994). In 2015, Smollett attracted attention and received a highly positive critical reception for his portrayal of musician Jamal Lyon in the Fox drama series Empire (2015). Smollett has also appeared in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Alien: Covenant (2017) as Ricks and in Marshall (2017) as Langston Hughes.
He doesn’t just act. Smollett signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and would be releasing an album in the future. Smollett co-wrote the songs “I Wanna Love You” and “You’re So Beautiful” on the Original Soundtrack from Season 1 of Empire album, which was released in March 2015. In March 2018, Smollett released his debut album, Sum of My Music.
Of course, his “current” fame stems from his starring role in the Series Empire. It has been alleged that part of this “circus” that has consumed his life of late came from his desire to get more fame and subsequent pay increase for his role in that series. “Alleged” is the magic word — nothing is proven yet.
Jussie Smollett is Gay: Ring #2
Smollett came out as gay during a televised interview with Ellen DeGeneres in March 2015.
In a 2016 interview with Out, he clarified his sexual orientation by stating “If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man.” However, he stated his belief that openness to love is more important than gender, revealing that “If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I’m going to love that woman.” When Smollett’s gay character from Empire engaged in a tryst with a female character, Smollett defended the plot development by stating that he and Empire‘s creator Lee Daniels were trying to create a conversation about sexual fluidity in the gay community. Daniels has stated that while he and Smollett are gay, they both occasionally want to have sex with women. Daniels stated that “We’re showing life on Empire,” in that both he and Smollett were incorporating their own sexual fluidity as gay men into the show.
Smollett told his parents he was gay when he was 19.
Jussie Smollett is African American: Ring #3
Smollett grew-up in Santa Rosa, California, a small city in the Wine Country about 50 miles north of San Francisco. He is the third of six children of Janet (née Harris) and Joel Smollett (1956–2014). He has three brothers and two sisters: Jake, Jocqui, Jojo, Jurnee, and Jazz, several of whom are also actors.
Smollett is actually biracial. His mother is African-American and his father was Jewish (his family emigrated from Russia and Poland). He has said that his father would have “killed you if you called him white.”
Jussie Smollett is a Professional Entertainer: Ring #4
Yes, I know this is a “three-ring” circus. But in Jussie’s case, his circus has a fourth. Of course, we’ve all seen in past years the never-ending Hollywood circus. I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that folks who breathe Hollywood air and who work in the entertainment field (acting, directing, music, etc.) have a propensity to concentrate on self-awareness. Jussie is definitely qualified as a member of that group.
Smollett Support from the Rich and Famous
On January 30, 2019, public figures expressed support for Smollett on social media. Entertainment industry figures, including Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis, tweeted their outrage over the attack and support for Smollett. Democratic senators and presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both described the attack as an attempted modern-day lynching. Booker urged Congress to pass a federal Anti-Lynching bill co-sponsored by him and Harris. Smollett faced skepticism regarding his claim of being attacked; he responded by saying that he believed that, if he had said his attackers were Mexicans, Muslims, or black people, “the doubters would have supported me much more … And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”
Entertainment industry figures who worked with Smollett speculated about what may have motivated the actor to stage the hate crime. Some of the cast members of Empire believe that Smollett might have gotten the idea to stage a hate crime after the show’s creator, Lee Daniels, discussed a homophobic assault against his cousin with the show’s cast. Smollett’s co-stars theorized that the actor might have wanted to gain Daniels’ favor and become an “LGBT hero” by staging the attack. Director Lucian Read drew a connection between the hoax and a May 2018 episode of the Epix series America Divided about lynching which he directed; Smollett narrated and appeared in the episode. Epix also released a statement saying “with respect to the sensitivities around recent events…Epix is no longer making available the episode of America Divided featuring Jussie Smollett.”
What Happened to Jussie?
A recent Billboard Magazine article talked about a widespread lack of awareness about the importance of mental health in the jazz/hop Los Angeles music community. Six up-and-coming artists were invited to discuss how they took care of themselves. Among them was Jussie Smollett, who, in addition to his own fledgling solo musical career, played Jamal Lyon, a singer on the hit Fox series Empire. Smollett stressed the importance of honesty in his own internal struggles. “I admit that I’m jealous, I admit that I’m insecure and that I’m not good at certain things,” he said. Then, in a comment that didn’t get any attention at the time, Smollett suggested that these pressures might be catching up to him. “I’m in my 30s and I’m trying my best to learn that I can’t bend anymore,” he said. “I’m about to break.”
Six months later, he may have done just that.
On Jan. 19, 2019, the actor tweeted, “Depression is a real thing Y’all.” Three days later, a threatening letter targeting Smollett arrived at the Empire production offices in Chicago. And a week after that, the actor told Chicago police that two masked assailants had attacked him in a wealthy Chicago neighborhood as he walked home from a Subway at 2 a.m. while he was on the phone with his music manager, Brandon Z. Moore. Because Smollett, who is black and openly gay, identified his attackers as white males who shouted “This is MAGA country” and claimed they hung a noose around his neck, his case was immediately held up as an example of the growing problem of hate crimes in the Trump era. In Hollywood, where the alleged attack played perfectly into the community’s worst fears about prejudice, support for Smollett was strident. Robin Roberts interviewed him sympathetically on Good Morning America. Ellen Page called out the Trump administration for the incident on Colbert.
There are no doctors here at TruthNewsNetwork (TNN). There’s no way for us to draw any meaningful and educated decisions about what has been going on with Smollett and what could lead him down the path on which he finds himself. One would think he has some personal issues that fed this narrative. One can only speculate about what they are. And speculation ran amuck in the early days following the report of the “alleged” hate crime. Speculation like we see and hear in this NBC News report:
I doubt anyone will ever be able to provide an accurate “why” answer for Jussie’s creation of this alleged crime. Certainly, many factors contributed: disdain for President Trump, struggling with mental and professional pressure he felt, whether real or perceived job stress and personal insecurities. Honestly, most every American deals with those issues in their life at some point. And thankfully, most Americans do not find themselves where Smollett is today: career destroyed, dozens if not hundreds of friendships ended because of betrayal, disdain more than ever for being gay, and nowhere to turn for a peaceful way out of this dilemma.
It is a good thing that most Americans have the resources that come through family members, friends, business associates, and medical professionals necessary to successfully work through the issues that apparently drove Smollett to this point in his life. In Jussie’s case, however, it seems that all the things and circumstances that gave him the fame and fortune in which he found himself are actually major contributors — if not THE contributors — to the state of mind that created the Hate-Hoax scenario surrounding Jussie.
We have been accused of being too hard on the media at TruthNewsNetwork. And sometimes, maybe we are. But in this century and in this decade, everyone needs to understand the power of media communication. And those in media of every kind need to understand that with that power comes responsibility.
Jussie himself railed loudly and constantly against President Trump. I doubt Smollett stopped to consider the power of HIS words, of HIS political stances given in public that even though were his opinions, in most instances were swallowed by his followers as factual. Why is that? His fame and his universal support by those in his industry: Entertainment. Unfortunately, success in the U.S. entertainment industry resonates to many who watch and listen-in as integrity, honesty, and they give those stories total acceptance.
Maybe Jussie just flipped out; maybe he really believes the extent of American racism he expressed; maybe he really believes President Trump is a racist, an Islamophobe, and homophobe. If that is true, we could more easily understand his acting on those beliefs in the manner in which he did.
But one thing is certain: the American media fawn over those in Entertainment from Hollywood and Manhattan and elsewhere in the U.S. And it seems to be the same thing in American politics and even professional sports. Heretofore those in the media have rejected any calls for responsibility on their part. In a way, they are justified in doing so. Their reasoning? The media in part are the driving sources for the monumental adoration of Americans for all those in the movies, music, and professional sports. Without their news coverage, they maintain, stars in sports and entertainment would not have anything close to the adoration of adoring fans that they experience. For that, the media have forsaken any responsibility for any Jussie Smollet stories or any others. And there are many.
I’ll close today with a personal story to help explain what, why, and how Jussie Smollett happened. In 2006, I owned a professional arena football team. The availability of a really good quarterback was made known to me by an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Quincy Carter became available when the Cowboys released him and no other NFL team picked him up. “If he was so good, why did the Cowboys cut him and why did no other NFL team sign him?” I was asked. There’s a reason…or two. Believe me.
Quincy grew up in Georgia. He was a stellar athlete who was pampered because of his outstanding athletic abilities from a very young age. He excelled in football in middle school. He picked apart the defenses of high school football opponents. He rocked the Southeastern Conference playing for the University of Georgia. And he was the first quarterback to take the Dallas Cowboys to the NFL playoffs since Troy Aikman. But Quincy had some issues.
Few knew that he was the victim of Bipolar Disorder. He had dramatic mood swings that were uncontrollable and unavoidable. When diagnosed, the prescribed medication worked well at helping to control his wild swings in temperament and concentration. But he hated taking the medicine. It left him feeling funny. He tried marijuana, and marijuana worked. Quincy while at the University of Georgia began self-medicating with marijuana.
Marijuana was not acceptable, not only in the National Football League but in the Arena Football League as well. Quincy’s professional football career was over in the NFL — unless we could change things. We were called to see if we could work with him in the AFL and get him back to doing the right things medically. We agreed, but with conditions: Quincy had to agree to drug treatment prior to our 2006 season and throughout our season, he had to speak to a chosen (by our team doctors) drug counselor every day — either in person or via telephone when the team was traveling. It went well — at first.
Quincy was a quarterback phenomenon. He comfortably made the transition from outdoor football to indoor and the field half the size as that of an outdoor field. He easily won our starting QB job in training camp. We started our season 5-0, primarily because of Quincy. He was benched for game 6 for “team infractions.” We lost. And then Quincy came back with his head straight and led us to the Conference Championship game against our arch rival, only to lose on a freak play.
During that season, we saw firsthand why the Jussie Smollett’s and Quincy Carter’s and other in similar shoes fought different demons from most of the rest of us. Quincy was a god in Texas. We played against 5 Texas teams in our division. Everytime we played in one of those Texas team stadiums, they sold out. THEIR fans came to the games wearing Quincy Carter Dallas Cowboy jerseys, not those of their home team. And after games, Quincy was flooded with fans getting his autograph and a picture with him. Media interviews had to be closely monitored and scheduled. All through our league, conversations about Quincy were top of the news all season long.
The week after we lost that conference championship game, Quincy was arrested for DWI: marijuana.
We cannot blame that on the media. We cannot blame that on rampant fan support. We cannot blame that on Quincy’s upbringing in Georgia. We cannot even blame that on marijuana. But each one of those “things” in Quincy’s life was a huge contributing factor in the fall of Quincy Carter.
Jussie Smollett just like all of us has a bunch of “stuff” in his closet. Some of it Jussie’s friends and family members know about. There are probably other things Jussie keeps in that closet and with the closet door closed.
So what should Quincy have done about those things? What about Jussie? What about you and me? I’m fairly certain there’s no absolute answer to those questions. But one answer that I DO know for certain: doing NOTHING about them is NEVER the right answer.
So next time we see or hear about the failure of a movie or television star, a college or professional basketball, baseball, football, soccer, or golf star that has failed, let’s think through these and other possible factors that usually together put that person in the position in their life where that failure happened. And while we’re trying to understand, remember this: “But for the grace of God, that could be me.”